Monday, November 04, 2013

Monday Morning Stories With Mookie - Episode 91

The Time Mookie Ran His First Marathon

A friend of mine completed the NYC Marathon yesterday, and while looking up the results to see how he did - it caused me to reflect upon the first marathon I completed 9 yrs ago.  I thought I'd share.

I started running primarily as a way to lose weight. I was at a point where I was the heaviest I'd ever been, and my diet/exercise was certainly something less than desirable to a healthy person.  The wife and I had just had a son about a year prior, so we decided that we should probably "get healthy" so that we didn't die on each other or - at the very least - before the kid graduated high school.

In addition to an improved diet (thanks to my wife following the Weight Watchers program), I started running on the treadmill at work. As the pounds began to trickle away and I continued to exercise, it seemed like each time I stepped onto the treadmill that I was able to go a little farther. What originally started out as a gasping out-of-breath mile on the treadmill, eventually turned into the ability to run the equivalent of the 5K (3.1 miles). I hadn't run that far since high school, and I was happy to say I was averaging runs that were under 10 min/miles - not too shabby for this fat ass. Things started to snowball in my brain not long after that, and due to my naivete about it all - I started to think big. I was already up to a 5K distance, why not shoot for the top of the mountain and run a marathon (26.2 miles)? I consulted with family and friends about what I should do - some said I should just do a half-marathon, some said I was just crazy thinking about any of it, and some said to "go big or go home." In the end - I decided to go big. I was confident in my abilities and knew that if I put in the time/effort - I knew I could do it. Plus I knew that what I lacked in ability I made up for in stupidity/determination.

I found an 18 week training program that I thought would be easy to follow, and I followed it to a "T." It had me running 4 days a week with the 4th day consisting of the "long run."  Each week the amount of total miles would increase, and the long run would increase by one or two miles.  The distance for the long run during the 1st week was 5 miles.  I remember thinking at the time that was NUTS.  But you know what? I went out and I did it. I did it day after day, week after week on regular runs then went between 3 and 8 miles, up to long runs that topped out at 18 miles. They hurt, but I made it. There were days I could barely walk due to minor "over-use" injuries I had sustained, but I blindly and stupidly ran through them because I had the thought in my head that if I missed a day of training - I wouldn't finish. Looking back now I know this was clearly stupid on my part, but I had my eye on the prize and felt like I was doing what I needed to do.

Finally, the day of the marathon arrived and I (thought I) was ready.  We stayed the night before the race with Rick and his family so that we didn't have to get a hotel and all that. Plus Rick said he could take me to the start line as he knew his way around the city.  The night before the race I did not sleep much at all.  Partly because I was excited about what was going to happen, and partly because my son didn't sleep much either.  I got up early, taped up what I needed to tape up, laced up my shoes, voided everything I could out of my body and set out for the start line.

I was excited because I knew my parents and my youngest sister were along the race route somewhere - but I didn't know where they would be.  My wife and friends were planning on being at the finish line, but I knew there was a possibility they could be somewhere along the route as well.

Once I got to the race, I found my way into the crowded street and around the "pacer" groups that were holding signs that said how long it would take them to run the race.  I settled into an area that was around the 4hr and 15 min people (which was way too fast for me) and thought that was good. Finally the time for the start of the arrived and I was ready to go. They came over the speakers, did their usual "rah-rah" about things and then proceeded to do the National Anthem.  I remember standing there feeling quite proud of myself and what I was about to embark on. I even almost got a little choked up as the anthem finished up, but snapped out of it and got ready to take care of business.

Eventually they fired the gun and the race started. As I was far back in the pack, it took a good minute or so for me to get near the actual starting line. As the crowd got gradually moved towards the line, everyone walked until they were about 30 feet before the starting line, and then they would start running. Finally...after many months of training and anxiety about it all - I started running and crossed the starting line of the marathon. As far as I was concerned, there was only one way out of the race - the finish line.

Since I was running next to a pacer group that was much faster than I should have been running, I was stupidly matching their speed. I was so jacked up and excited that I didn't even realize I was actually going that fast. There was timer clocks at each mile marker, and as I crossed the 1 mile marker, I remember it saying 11 minutes and 36 seconds. Because of this, I didn't think I was running as fast as I was - which was stupid because that was the RACE CLOCK. I didn't cross the start line for a good minute or two after the actual race started. I was humming along and soaking in the scenery and excitement of it all, and it was AWESOME. The race turned and we proceeded down a slight hill towards the 2nd mile marker and I saw the clock there: 18 minutes and 20 seconds. Whoa. It was then that it clicked in my brain that I was going too fast. Even if I'd started with the actual race clock - it was still too fast. Again, my novice running mind thought "What the hell. Let's see how far we can go like this." SO STUPID. It wasn't long after this I spotted my Mom, Dad, and sister in the crowd cheering me on, so that helped kick up the excitement as well.

I continued this pace through miles three thru five, and even through the hilly portion of the race. When the race began to level out around mile 6, the excitement eventually started to wear off and (not so surprisingly) so did my energy.  Mile 7 - I did the unthinkable: I had to stop running a walk for a bit. I remember cursing myself: "STUPID STUPID STUPID MOOKIE. Ya had to run wicked fast didn't you?" I remember people along the route looking at me when I started walking, and thinking that they were probably going "Look at this loser walking already." After a minute or so I picked the pace back up and started running again, but at a MUCH slower and appropriate pace than before.

As I ticked off the miles, I quickly found the course of this particular race QUITE BORING.  It went off into a secluded park and followed nature trails through the trees. This was nice and everything, but it was hard to keep the motivation going after seeing people cheering for you during the first 5 or 6 miles. There was one stretch of the race where there were one or two mile markers totally missing (it was reported later that vandals had messed with the race signage). You want to talk about messing with one's head during a race - that's one sure fire way to do it. In what felt like the most longest mile ever, it ended up being two.  It was like "Is this mile ever going to end?" I know I did a bit of walking through this stretch as well.

Finally I crossed the half-way point (13.1 miles), and the race clock said 2hrs, 10 min.  Given the fact I had walked a decent amount and I was still under a 10 min/mile - it told me I had ran WAY too fast going out of the gate. Miles 14-20 were awful. They were a mixture of running and walking, and being out in this park in the middle of nowhere was deflating. A friend of mine had just ran the Chicago Marathon and said that there were people packed along the entire race course. Out in this park, I ran a good 3-4 miles at at a time without seeing someone other than people passing me or me passing them. I quickly decided this was bullshit.
Run Fat Ass!

Eventually the race left this God-forsaken park and headed back into the city. However, what lay in front of me was the MOST exhausting and mind-draining thing I had ever seen. The course made it's way onto a closed portion of a 4-lane city street.  They had the road partitioned off down the middle of the lanes on each side so that you had to run down the street about a mile, then run back up it a mile, then run back down the other side a mile, then turn again and run 1/4 mile before the course ran back into downtown. It was horrible. There were many times I considered just saying "screw it" and just cutting across all lanes and foregoing all of this back and forth crap. However there were two things that prevented me from doing such.  One was the fact I figured they had a timing mat somewhere at the end of one of the turnarounds, and if I skipped that my time in the race would be DQ'd.  The second was that I never would have forgiven myself for cutting the race short. To this day, this is one of things I am most proud of during this event: Even when I was as down and out as I was, I didn't give up and cheat.

Miles 23, 24, and 25 seemed like was walking more than I was running, but I kept my head up and continued trudging on. As I neared the 26 mile marker, I saw a familiar face along the side of the road - my little sister.  She ran out into the street and started running along side of me. I needed this. I asked her if she was "ready to run it in with me" but she said she'd "see me at the finish" quickly shot off the street and across the yard towards the finish line around the corner. There was a sign at the 26.1 mile mark and I didn't know if I could make it the rest of the way. I cranked up my headphones for something - anything - to get me excited and going.

With "Sexual Thing" by Poison cranked in my headphones, I rounded the corner and saw the finish line up ahead. Then I saw my wife, my son, my Mom, Dad, youngest sister, and my friend Rick and his family all standing along the street cheering me in. A smile formed across my face and I knew right then that I would be able to run it in.

With every nerve and muscle fiber in my body screaming in pain for me to stop, I crossed the finish line with a time of 4 hours, and 51 minutes. Me - Mookie - had just completed a marathon. Boo yah.  While it was not the fastest time in the world, I had done something most people claim they could never do - and I had to smile a little.

I quickly made my way through the finishers area and looked everywhere for my wife. For me, the race wasn't over until I found her.  When I finally got to her -  she gave me the biggest hug and told me how proud she was of me.
Me And my wife (and son). I will never forget this.

I will forever remember standing there after the race and talking with my family and friends about everything I had endured, and I will be forever grateful that they were there to share that accomplishment with me.

In the years that followed, I ran two more marathons - and hope to someday run another (if I can ever get off my ass). People ask why I would ever want to do another one, and my answer is simply this:

The feeling of pushing your body and your mind beyond anything you ever thought possible hurts like a son of a bitch. But when you finish - the feeling you feel is nothing like anything else you have ever known. It is a feeling you can't explain, but one that is amazing and one you will never forget.

(*) - Names changed to protect the guilty/innocent

Miss a previous episode??  Click HERE!

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